Indian Rhinoceros – Rhinoceros unicornis.
The Indian Rhinoceros, also called the Asian One-horned Rhinoceros, lives in the savannahs and forests that are nestled just below the breath-taking Himalayan Mountain Range in India and Nepal. Its scientific name, Rhinoceros Unicornis, alludes to the fact that there only exists one horn (‘uni-’ meaning ‘one’) in both males and females. This horn is made of the same substance as the human fingernail (keratin) and begins growing when the animal is about six years of age. The black horn of the Indian Elephant only grows to about 20 to 30 cm in length in the wild, but is much stubbier in the cases of rhinos in captivity.
Today, there are approximately 2500 to 3000 of these animals left in the wild, over half of which are in the Indian state of Assam. Males and females of this subspecies usually reach about four metres in length, with males weighing approximately 2800 kilograms and females about 1600 kilograms. Its thick skin is a greyish brown colour and is wrinkled, making it look rather old-world and mysterious. There are bumps all over their shoulders, which extend to the tops of their legs. Although they are sizeable animals with relatively short legs, the Indian Rhinos can reach up to 40 kilometres per hour over short distances, can jump and can change direction with agility and speed. In addition, they are able to swim very well.
Although these rhinos prefer the grasses and Riverine forests, they need to go where there is vegetation for them to eat (as they are herbivorous). With increased development in India, their natural habitat has shrunk to a large degree, forcing them into other areas, usually closer to human settlements.
The Indian Rhino does not travel in herds, but prefers to travel alone. Mothers will travel with their calves until they are weaned (usually at about four years of age) and, occasionally, breeding pairs will be found traversing the landscape together for a set period of time. Significantly, an Indian Rhino has a ‘home range’, which is a specified territory. Some home ranges may overlap, but there is always the threat of a fight if there are two males within the same area during mating season. Groups of young males are short-term and usually gravitate towards the borders of a dominant male’s home range. The group status is a protection from the adult male’s possible attacks. At any time other than during mating season, rhinoceroses are generally friendly with one another, greeting each other with head movements or licking the other animal.
Rhinos graze off the tall grasses, leaves and branches of the foliage within their surroundings. They often congregate at watering holes during the day, where they drink and bathe to cool down and clean their leathery skin. Mynahs and egrets, two bird species, also clean the rhino’s body by eating parasites and other small creatures off it.
One of the characteristics of the Indian Rhino is the range of noises that it makes with its vocal chords. It 1) snorts, 2) squeak-pants, 3) shrieks, 4) honks, 5) roars, 6) bleats, 7) moo-grunts, 8) groans, 9) rumbles and 10) humphs. These are used to communicate with other beasts within the vicinity, to warn of danger and to find potential mates.
Once mated, the gestation period lasts for a lengthy 15 to 16 months, after which the mother will give live birth to one baby. Rhinos are mammals. The baby is fed milk from its mother until it is developed enough to be taught to forage for its own food.
Although still under threat (from poachers, pollution and a massive decrease in the size and availability of their natural habitat), the Indian Rhinoceros has endured far more challenging times. Just more than 100 years ago, there were believed to be only about 100 of these animals left, after they had been hunted to the extreme in the 19th and 20th centuries for their horns and skins. By 1908, there were only 12 Indian Rhinos alive in Kaziranga. Two years later, rhino hunting was completely banned in an effort to preserve and rehabilitate this species. So, the number of these animals today, although not very big, is still an impressive increase from the dire straits they faced in their very recent history. There continue to be parks, reserves, sanctuaries and organisations in place for the protection of the Indian Rhino. These include the World Wildlife Fund, Manas National Park, Kaziranga National Park and Laokhowa Reserve Forest.